Sony has enjoyed a lot of success recently with the Alpha 1 camera, which despite its £$6500 price-tag has generated a lot of interest amongst professional users and serious enthusiasts alike.
Now Canon have struck back with the announcement of the EOS R3, on paper their most impressive camera to date, and which is clearly a direct challenger to the Sony A1.
The Sony A1 and the Canon R3 share quite a lot of similarities when it comes to their core specifications and features, so which one should you pick?
We’re bringing you this in-depth Canon R3 vs Sony A1 head-to-head comparison to help you choose between these two flagship full-frame mirrorless cameras.
The Sony A1 has a 50 megapixel Stacked, Back-Side Illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor.
The EOS R3 also uses a stacked BSI sensor, just like the one on the Sony A1, but it has a much more modest 24 megapixel resolution.
Canon have been very quick to point out that the new sensor in the R3 has been developed solely by Canon, and not by Sony.
Back-Side Illuminated (BSI) sensors potentially translate into better low-light image quality at like-for-like ISO speeds and faster all-round performance.
The native sensitivity range of the Sony A1 is ISO 100 to ISO 32,000, which can be expanded to ISO 50 to ISO 102,400.
The ISO range of the Canon R3 is ISO 100 to ISO 102,400, which can be expanded to ISO 50 to ISO 204,800, so slightly greater than the Alpha 1.
The Sony Alpha 1 offer a headline-grabbing 8K video mode, making it one of only two digital interchangeable lens cameras to offer this feature at present, the other being the Canon EOS R5.
The Sony A1 offers 8K/30p 10-bit 4:2:0 XAVC HS video recording with 8.6K oversampling, in addition to 4K 120p 10-bit 4:2:2 and FullHD at 240fps movie shooting capabilities, and can output 16-bit Raw video over HDMI.
The Canon EOS R3 “only” offers 6K/60p recording due to the 24 megapixel sensor that it uses, in addition to 4K video at up to 120p.
We also hope that the larger body and the negative feedback that Canon have received about the R5 means that the new R3 doesn’t suffer from over-heating in the same way that the R5 did, so it would be more likely to match the excellent performance of the Sony A1.
And that certainly seems to be the case, as Canon are promising that the R3 can record up to six hours of regular video or 1.5 hours at high 119.88/100p frame rates.
The Sony A1 has a very advanced AF system with 759 phase detection points that cover approximately 92% of the image area. It offers improved Real-time Eye AF for humans and animals, and new Real-time Eye AF for birds, as well as Real-time Tracking that automatically maintains accurate focus.
The new Canon R3 has the most advanced version of Dual Pixel CMOS AF that the company has ever produced, along with a brand new vehicle tracking mode, which allows you to expertly track motorbikes, open cockpit Formula cars as well as GT and rally cars, and even has the ability to prioritise the vehicle or the driver’s helmet!
In an attempt to get one up on Sony, the Canon R3 also allows you to select and move the AF point just with the look of your eye using the electronic viewfinder, something that even the mighty Alpha 1 can’t do.
It remains to be seen just how effective this intriguing new mode will be in real life, but it could give the R3 a real edge over the A1 when it comes to quickly being able to focus, without even having to touch the camera controls.
The Sony A1 offers a class-leading 30fps burst shooting mode with its electronic shutter for 165 JPEG frames or 155 compressed RAW images.
That is, class-leading until now, as the Canon R3 ups the ante from the EOS R5’s 20fps mode to also provide 30fps shooting with the electronic shutter with full AF/AE tracking and minimal image distortion for 540 JPEG or 150 RAW images.
Body and Design
The Sony A1 largely follows the tried and tested design of seemingly almost every previous Sony Alpha camera – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it seems to be the mantra for the newest Alpha camera – with the A1 rather like a more polished cross between the A9 and A7S series bodies.
The Canon R3 is taking a markedly different approach, featuring a similar integrated grip with duplicated vertical controls that EOS-1D series cameras have always offered.
This means that the R3 will be much bigger and heavier than the A1 out of the box, although fitting a battery grip to the flagship Sony camera may substantially narrow the size and weight differences between them.
Both cameras are fully weather-sealed, as you’d expect from such professional level models.
The new Sony A1 has a 5-axis optical in-body image stabilization system, but it only provides up to 5.5-stops of compensation – good, but not class-leading.
That accolade goes to the Canon R5 which has a pretty incredible stabilisation system. It features a 5-axis in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) that provides up to 8-stops of IS when using the camera with certain compatible RF-mount lenses.
The new R3 offers the same IBIS system as the R5 – its 5-axis In-Body Image Stabilizer can combine with the optical Image Stabilizer in selected RF lenses to offer industry-leading performance worth up to 8-stops – once again giving Canon an advantage over the Alpha 1.
The Sony A1 has a frankly amazing 9.44M-dot OLED Quad-XGA electronic viewfinder with 0.90x magnification and a refresh rate of up to 240 fps which ensures no black-out even when shooting at 30fps.
The Canon R3 has a not-quite-so impressive 5.76M-dot OLED electronic viewfinder with 0.76x magnification and a fast 120fps refresh rate, the same as the one in the EOS R5.
The Sony A1 has a 3.0-inch LCD screen with 1.44 million dots of resolution which can be tilted up by 107 degrees and down by 41 degrees.
Surprisingly for such a high-end camera, the EOS R3 has a more versatile vari-angle touch screen which provides greater flexibility of shooting angles thanks to its ability to tilt and rotate into a range of positions, unlike the fixed screen on the EOS-1D X III DSLR camera.
And it’s much higher-resolution than the Alpha 1’s screen – 4.1-million dots to be exact.
As you would expect from a professional camera, the Alpha 1 has dual memory card slots. Both of them can be used for either SD UHS-I/II compliant memory card or CFexpress Type A cards.
The Canon R3 has one UHS-II SD card slot and one ultra-high speed CFexpress slot, so it doesn’t follow the lead of the EOS-1D X Mark III which has two CFexpress slots.
The Sony A1 uses exactly the same familiar NP-FZ100 battery that all the other recent Alpha cameras use, which provides up to 430 shots when using the viewfinder and approx. 530 shots when using the LCD monitor.
The EOS R3 uses the LP-E19 series battery from the EOS-1D X III rather than the LP-E6NH series that the EOS R5 uses, which provides up to 620 shots when using the viewfinder and 860 shots when using the LCD monitor.
In the UK the Sony A1 is priced at £6,500 body only and in the US it costs $6,500.
The Canon EOS R5 has a price-tag of £4,199 in the UK and $3,899 in the US, and the flagship EOS-1D X Mark III retails for £6,4999 / $6,499.
The Canon EOS R3 is priced at £5,879.99 / $5,999.00, so it’s commendably cheaper than both the Alpha 1 and the EOS-1D X Mark III at launch.
The Sony Alpha 1 is currently the best all-round, do-it-all camera on the market, bringing together all of Sony’s cutting edge stills and video technologies into one body and surpassing what the likes of Canon and Nikon have to offer.
Now Canon have answered the challenge with the launch of the R3, which is clearly their riposte to the Alpha 1. Now that they’ve disclosed all the key details, it’s apparent that the EOS R3 will be a very serious rival indeed for the A1 when it launches in November later this year.
So what do you think? Based on what we know so far, would you choose the Sony A1 or the new Canon R3, and why? Leave a comment below!